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Industrial & Organisational : Introduction : Personnel : Organizational psychology : Occupations: Work environment: Index : Outline

George Elton Mayo (26 December 1880, Adelaide - 7 September 1949, Guildford, Surrey) was an Australian psychologist, sociologist and organization theorist.

He lectured at the University of Queensland from 1911 to 1923 before moving to the University of Pennsylvania, but spent most of his career at Harvard Business School (1926 - 1947), where he was professor of industrial research. On 18 April 1913 he married Dorothea McConnel in Brisbane, Australia. They had two daughters, Patricia and Gael.


Mayo is known as the founder of the Human Relations Movement, and was known for his research including the Hawthorne Studies and his book The Human Problems of an Industrialized Civilization (1933). The research he conducted under the Hawthorne Studies of the 1930s showed the importance of groups in affecting the behavior of individuals at work. Mayo's employees, Roethlisberger and Dickson, conducted the practical experiments. This enabled him to make certain deductions about how managers should behave. He carried out a number of investigations to look at ways of improving productivity, for example changing lighting conditions in the workplace. What he found however was that work satisfaction depended to a large extent on the informal social pattern of the work group. Where norms of cooperation and higher output were established because of a feeling of importance, physical conditions or financial incentives had little motivational value. People will form work groups and this can be used by management to benefit the organization.

He concluded that people's work performance is dependent on both social issues and job content. He suggested a tension between workers' 'logic of sentiment' and managers' 'logic of cost and efficiency' which could lead to conflict within organizations.

Disagreement regarding his employees' procedure while conducting the studies:

  • The members of the groups whose behavior has been studied were allowed to choose themselves.
  • Two women have been replaced since they were chatting during their work. They were later identified as members of a leftist movement.
  • One Italian member was working above average since she had to care for her family alone. Thus she affected the group's performance in an above average way.

Summary of Mayo's Beliefs:

  • Individual workers cannot be treated in isolation, but must be seen as members of a group.
  • Monetary incentives and good working conditions are less important to the individual than the need to belong to a group.
  • Informal or unofficial groups formed at work have a strong influence on the behavior of those workers in a group.
  • Managers must be aware of these 'social needs' and cater for them to ensure that employees collaborate with the official organization rather than work against it.
  • Mayo's simple instructions to industrial interviewers set a template and remain influential to this day:

A. The simple rules of interviewing:
1. Give your full attention to the person interviewed, and make it evident that you are doing so.
2. Listen - don't talk.
3. Never argue; never give advice.
4. Listen to: what he wants to say; what he does not want to say; what he can not say without help.
5. As you listen, plot out tentatively and for subsequent correction the pattern that is being set before you. To test, summarize what has been said and present for comment. Always do this with caution - that is, clarify but don't add or twist.[1]


Mayo's contributions to management theory were criticized by celebrated sociologist Daniel Bell. Writing in 1947, Bell criticized Mayo and other industrial sociologists for "adjusting men to machines," rather than enlarging human capacity or human freedom. More recently, in 2003, James Hoopes criticized Mayo for "substituting therapy for democracy."


  1. Mayo, Elton (1949). Hawthorne and the Western Electric Company. The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilisation. Routledge.

Further readingEdit

  • The Social Problems of an Industrial Civilization by Elton Mayo [1]
  • The Human Problems of an Industrial Civilization by Elton Mayo [2]
  • Daniel Bell, "Adjusting Men to Machines: Social Scientists Explore the World of the Factory," Commentary 3 (1947): 79-88.
  • Kyle Bruce, "Henry S. Dennison, Elton Mayo, and Human Relations historiography" in: Management & Organizational History, 2006, 1: 177-199
  • Elton Mayo, Gael, The Mad Mosaic: A Life Story Quartet, London 1984 [3]
  • Richard C. S. Trahair, Elton Mayo: The Humanist Temper, Transaction Publishers, U.S. 2005 [4]
  • James Hoopes, "The Therapist: Elton Mayo" in "False Prophets: The Gurus who created modern management...", 2003, pp. 129-159.
  • George Elton Mayo: Critical Evaluations in Business and Management, Ed. John Cunningham Wood, Michael C. Wood, 2004


  • Rose, Nikolas. Governing the Soul the Shaping of the Private Self: the shaping of the private self. 2nd ed. London: Free Assoc. Books, 1999.


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